Monday 4 December 2023

Wright, Williams, Madhoo

With the one major exception, it's been a pretty awful year for Peter Wright, whose numbers have dropped to outside of a top 32 level, results have generally been below par, and it could be signs of a terminal decline in his quality and a slump down the rankings, starting very soon with him defending winner's money in this tournament. A defeat this time last year pretty early to Kim Huybrechts might have been an early sign, and in early unranked events the Premier League saw him not win a single night, lose in the first game eight of the first nine days, and only end up with one final as he finished a clear bottom of the table. He was able to scrape a couple of wins in the UK Open over Stephen Bunting and Callan Rydz before going down to Richie Burnett of all people, and his early European Tour form (with basically no early floor form due to not playing many of the events) was mediocre, dropping out in the first round more than half the time, before signs of life were seen in Prague with an unexpected win, eliminating Dolan, Noppert, Humphries, Heta and then Chisnall in the final. He would make a similar run in the final event, albeit losing in the final to Ricardo Pietreczko, while in the Pro Tour he was starting to make more appearances but only made the one semi final and one quarter final, finishing on a poor note with three first round exits. So to TV, where Peter went out fairly early in the Matchplay, getting a win over a below par Andrew Gilding, but losing to Ryan Searle in round two - he would avenge that defeat to Searle in the Grand Prix, where he went one better after previously defeating Gabriel Clemens, but he would go out to Luke Humphries. This leads onto the main (sole?) high spot of the season, where Wright won the European Championship - an unexpected victory, perhaps aided by dodging a few of the top names. His run saw wins over Clemens again, Michael Smith, Chris Dobey, Danny Noppert and then James Wade in the final, and that ranking money will certainly halt a huge slide, but Wright would not be able to make any significant additions to that in the later events - his lack of Pro Tour appearances saw Wright fail to qualify for the Players Championship Finals, and he would be unable to get out of the group stages at the Grand Slam, splitting his games against fellow card holders and losing to an inspired Stowe Buntz. His levels are way off where they are at his peak, at least on a consistent basis, but you don't win a major title (or a Euro Tour title) without still having a very good top game, so he still has to be recognised as a threat in whatever game he plays.

Jim Williams has had a second solid season as a PDC tour card holder, which could have been even better were it not for an odd choice to withdraw from multiple European Tour events and otherwise not play the full schedule, be it missing five Pro Tour events and the last three Euro Tour qualifiers. Standing as the number 38 on the Pro Tour rankings, it wouldn't have taken a lot of effort to get into major events, but it is what it is so let's look at what he has actually done. This time last year, he made a statement by defeating James Wade, and over the course of this year his scoring levels are up there at just below the truly elite levels. On TV it's been a bit lacking, in the UK Open he would win a great match against Gian van Veen with both players averaging over a ton, but would just be edged out in round four in another great contest against Danny Noppert. In the other Minehead event, Jim would play well against a possibly tough draw against Dimitri van den Bergh, and average higher but come out just short. So what about the floor? Jim did play in three European Tour events, beating John Henderson but losing to Dave Chisnall in Leverkusen, beating Vincent van der Voort and Martin Schindler in Munich but losing in round three to Nathan Aspinall, while in Leeuwarden, Williams averaged well above 100 against George Killington and was only the odd break worse than Michael Smith. On the Pro Tour, Williams had his best run right at the end of the season, reaching the final of Players Championship 30, losing out to Chisnall again but beating the likes of Noppert, Rock and Heta on the way to the final, while he would have a semi final appearance late in the season being stopped only by eventual winner Gary Anderson, and had a further ten events where he reached a board final. The scoring stats saying 16th might be a bit of an exaggeration, but there's little doubt in my mind he is a top 32 quality player, and he has good match play abilities having already won a Pro Tour, having won the Challenge Tour and having a very solid reputation from his BDO/WDF days. He is currently narrowly outside the 2024 Matchplay spots and currently in the 2024 Grand Prix spots - if he doesn't want to play the full schedule, that's fine, in some ways managing your schedule is a good thing, but it would be good to see him making a big effort in the first half of 2024, getting to the Matchplay, and then start to see his ranking become more in line with his quality of play.

Norman Madhoo making it here is a great story, with the Guyanese veteran returning after over a decade's absence to the big stage. He has three previous appearances - losing way back when in 2004 to Steve Smith, before a break of six years prior to back to back showings, firstly 4-2 in legs to Canadian Ken MacNeil, and 4-3 in legs the year after to a then relatively unknown Devon Petersen, who was on debut at the time. Madhoo is here through finishing top of the clumsily named Championship Darts Latin America and Caribbean Tour, which consisted of two weekends, one in August in Costa Rica, the second in October in Chile. Madhoo won an event each weekend - the first one over compatriot Sudesh Fitzgerald in the final, typically averaging in the 70's range, the second one being over Argentinian Jesus Salate, peaking with an average of 80 in the final. These results saw him finish top over Fitzgerald by a clear margin to book his spot. Looking at the raw numbers, it's hard to see how he can compete against someone with Williams' quality, but we've seen odd results in the past, so I don't want to completely write him off. It is fair to say however that he might be the biggest underdog in the opening round, facing one of the two or three hardest Pro Tour qualifiers, and simply not having quite the level of game that a lot of the international qualifiers have. Madhoo does have some more recent TV experience when compared to the previous world appearances however, and it came in the form of a couple of matches in the World Cup - the PDC held a Latin American qualifier for the newly expanded event, and Guyana (Madhoo and Fitzgerald) were able to win it, beating a couple of Costa Rican pairings in the final stages to make their countries' first appearance. Sadly they lost 4-0 to Australia and 4-1 to Gibraltar, so the appearance was brief, but the experience after a long absence can't have hurt matters. It's going to be tough, but it's good to see Norman back on this stage.

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